The millennial who smashed the establishment

Fresh face: Ocasio-Cortez grew up in the Bronx and is from a Puerto Rican family. © Getty

Should more young people run for office? She is young, liberal, working class, and just won a shock election victory. For many, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents the future of US politics.

“Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.”

So claimed 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a campaign video that went viral last month. Now she is on the path to becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress.

That is, after she won an sensational victory in New York’s Democratic primary on Tuesday, where she defeated establishment grandee Joe Crowley. The New York Times called his defeat “the most significant loss for a Democratic incumbent in more than a decade.”

The odds were stacked against her. Crowley has served in Congress for nearly two decades and had more campaign funds. He was even tipped as a future speaker of the house.

By contrast, Ocasio-Cortez is a political novice: a working-class New Yorker from a Latino family who worked as a waitress, educator and community organiser after graduating from university.

Nonetheless, her campaign — built on striking social media posts, small donations and a slate of progressive policies — was enough to secure victory against the local Democratic Party machine.

And with the Midterm elections just months away, it will soon become clear just how far Ocasio-Cortez can go. Actress turned activist Cynthia Nixon hailed her as “the future of the Democratic Party,” and is joining with her to “take on the old boys club, [reject] corporate money and run people-powered campaigns.”

If she were to win a seat in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez’s youth would make her a distinct outlier. The average age of current representatives is 57 — the 115th Congress is among the oldest in history. And at 70 years old, Donald Trump is the oldest president ever to be inaugurated.

This trend is not reflected in Europe. Last year, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz became the world’s youngest serving head of state at just 31. France’s Emmanuel Macron and Ireland’s Leo Varadkar also assumed power in their 30s.

And in 2015, Mhairi Black, 20, became the youngest British MP in history, assuming the unofficial title “Baby of the House”.

Should more young people run for office?

Power of youth

Absolutely, some argue. Young people have passion, enthusiasm, and are often more in touch with the type of citizens mainstream politicians ignore. Governments work most effectively when they represent the diversity of society — a political class dominated by older people simply is not fair. It is time for the young to get on the ballot.

Not necessarily, others respond. As author David Brooks wrote: “we get better at life as we get older.” Political power affects the lives of countless people, and requires experience and wisdom. We should avoid rushing people into public careers to soon, and let potential politicians grow from life experience.

You Decide

  1. Would you consider a career in politics?
  2. Do younger people make better politicians than older people?

Activities

  1. It is time for you to establish your own political party. In pairs or small groups come up with a name, a logo and three major policies that you would campaign for. Present your new party to the class.
  2. Watch the first video link under Become An Expert — it is Ocasio-Cortez’s viral campaign video. Do you think it is effective? Why/Why not? What is interesting about the language she uses? How does the video use shots and imagery effectively?

Some People Say...

“Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.”

Stanisław Jerzy Lec

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Social media and grassroots funding were significant factors in Ocasio-Cortez’s victory. Her campaign video went viral and has over 12,000 retweets and 200,000 views on YouTube. She also raised more small-dollar donations than any other congressional candidate — although this did not stop her opponent Joe Crowley spending substantial amounts on his own campaign.
What do we not know?
Ocasio-Cortez’s seat in congress will only be confirmed if she wins in November’s midterms. However, New York is usually a safe Democrat region. In 2016, Crowley won re-election over a Republican challenger with 82.9% of the vote. The state has voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1988.

Word Watch

On the path
She will have to beat Republican candidate Anthony Pappas in November’s midterm election to win a seat in Congress.
Victory
A decisive win, she secured 57.5% of the vote.
Primary
Before Republicans and Democrats compete in a general election, each party holds an election to determine their own candidate.
Incumbent
An official who is currently in office.
Speaker of the house
The parliamentary and political leader of the House of Representatives. The speaker is second in the line of succession to the presidency, behind only the vice president.
Progressive policies
They included support for universal health care, tuition-free college and criminal justice reform.
Midterm elections
See the BBC piece in Become An Expert to find out what is at stake.
Oldest in history
In the last 30 years, the average age of representatives has increased with almost every new Congress.
Youngest
Britain’s youngest prime minister in history is William Pitt the Younger, who entered office aged 24.

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